Kuwait academic charged with blasphemy over TV interview

Sheikha al-Jassem's remarks in a TV interview last month provoked a storm of criticism
Sheikha al-Jassem’s remarks in a TV interview last month provoked a storm of criticism

A prominent female academic and human rights activist in Kuwait has been charged with blasphemy.

Sheikha al-Jassem was summoned to the public prosecutor’s office after legal complaints were filed against her over a recent interview she gave on TV.

She asserted that the constitution of Kuwait should be above the Quran and Islamic law in governing the country.

The public prosecutor still has the discretion to decide whether or not Ms Jassem will be put on trial.

The interview was broadcast on Kuwaiti Al-Shahed TV on 8 March. Its theme was the rise of Islamic extremism.

During the interview, Ms Jassem was asked about radical Islamists who said that religion was more important than the Kuwaiti constitution.

She responded by saying that this was dangerous and that, in her opinion, politics and religion should be kept apart.

‘They were terrifying me’

Ms Jassem made reference to the violence across the Middle East and divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims. She said that if you just went back to holy books and relied on them, society could not move forward.

Her remarks provoked a storm of attacks against her, spearheaded by Islamist members of Kuwait’s parliament.

“They were terrifying me – everywhere, not just from Kuwait, even from Saudi Arabia,” she told the BBC. “They were talking against me, they were saying bad things, they were ridiculing me. But I’m used to it now.

Calls were made for Ms Jassem’s dismissal from Kuwait University, where she is a professor of philosophy. and a legal complaint was issued against her.

The public prosecutor told her that the complainant said he had been psychologically damaged by her remarks.

Other legal complaints may also be filed.

Ms Jassem faces charges of blasphemy but it is up to the public prosecutor to decide whether to proceed to trial. If convicted, she could be jailed for one year.

But she is undaunted, buoyed by the support she has received as well as abuse.

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